In some circumstances, less is more. Such is the case with Gaslight Theatre Company's latest production, a show that, well, kind of doesn't really have a name.
[title of show] is a one-act musical of minimal proportions that follows a group of theater-loving friends and their quest to submit a piece to the New York Musical Theatre Festival in a three-week span, all based on real people and events.
It's a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical, so what you're watching is the musical they're writing as they're writing it…wait…right? questioned Nick Klem, the actor playing Jeff Bowen, who is the composer and lyricist of the show.
This elicited the first of many bouts of laughter among the group that makes up the production as they discussed the play, showcasing a dynamic that is of utmost importance for such a performance.
The slim cast of six includes Lukas Tomasacci as Hunter Bell, Bowen's best friend and the man responsible for the book for the show; Wendy Popeck as Heidi Blickenstaff and Meaghan Fadden as Susan Blackwell, both friends of the guys; Aimee Radics as the musical director, which also doubles as character Larry Pressgrove; and Christina Reynolds, the director of the show.
It's really simple, but it's not simple, Klem said of the show. The main thing is our friendships, and we just have to be so natural with the way we interact with each other. It's not like a normal scene you'd ever perform; you barely feel like you're performing until you're singing.
All of these characters – Bowen, Bell, Blickenstaff, Blackwell, and Pressgrove – are real-life friends who play themselves in [title of show], spinning the real tale of the creative process for their play.
It really speaks to theater people because it's about the process, Reynolds said. Anybody who's done a show has done portions of this process to some degree. Anybody who's done a show has experienced the change in relationships like these guys have. It goes from happy, ‘Oh we're all friends going to do something wonderful together. We're going to make art and it's going to be awesome,' to how the success changes that dynamic.
Couple the realness with the fact that the whole thing takes place among one setting for 90 straight minutes and it makes for a unique production.
It's very minimal, intentionally so, because they had no money to get this show on the road, and that worked for them, Reynolds said of the beginnings of [title of show]. Even when they did take it to Broadway and start to make money with it, that didn't change anything; they stuck with what worked. There's nothing to hide behind in this; there's no flashy costumes, no crazy set pieces. It's just five people on stage, bringing it.
And bring it they will – how could a cast that Popeck called obsessed with [title of show] not?
We have watched everything that has to do with it, she said. There's a ‘Title of Show Show' on YouTube that Hunter and Jeff did during the process of writing it that's absolutely hysterical. They're so savvy about how they market themselves.
Gaslight has mimicked that technique, blowing up its Facebook and Twitter pages to get the word out about the production. Through this, the cast found themselves on the other end of quite a shock – mention the Twitter incident and you'll be met with a wall of screams.
I tweeted the picture of our poster once we got it and, of course, I tagged Hunter, Heidi, Susan and Jeff, Fadden said. And then, – and this is where Fadden pauses to collect herself – Susan re-tweeted it, tagged everybody else, and a local gentleman who is now a playwright in New York City. And, – another deep breath – just a couple days ago, Hunter re-tweeted it too.
It's apparent the cast not only loves the show, but the people they portray. This makes it incredibly nerve-racking, to know that their characters are alive and well and may even come to see just how they do in their roles.
In the contract, when you do the show, you have to reserve seats for Hunter, Heidi, Susan, and Jeff, just in case they show up, Popeck said.
It's entirely possible, Reynolds elaborated. When a group in Philly did the show, all four of them came. They have been known to pop in, even if it's not all of them at once.
So, what will the cast do if they show up? Not know, apparently, until way later, so that nerves can be abated.
There are very strict instructions to not tell us prior to the show if they are here, Fadden said.
It would be crazy if they showed up, Tomasacci said, because that means not only the person that wrote the play, but the person I'm playing is in the audience.
[title of show] presented by Gaslight Theatre Company: Jan. 3-5, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 6, 2 p.m.; Mellow Theater (501 Vine Street, Scranton). $10, seniors and students; $12, adults. Not suitable for children.